Pappea capensis

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Botanical Name
Pappea capensis
Sapindaceae - The litchi and soap-berry family.
PAP-pee-uh ka-PEN-sis
Common Name(s)
English: Jacket Plum; Indaba Tree; Bushveld Cherry
Afrikaans: Doppruim
IsiXhosa: iliTye; umGqalutye
IsiZulu: umQhokwane; umVuma; iNdaba
Sesotho: Morobaliepe
Sesotho sa Leboa: Mongatane; Mopsinyugane
Setswana: Mothata
Xitsonga: Gulaswimbi
Tshivenda: Tshikavhavhe
IsiNdebele: Uzagogwane
Plant Group
  • Tree A woody, self-supporting perennial plant usually with a single main stem and generally growing more than 6 meters tall.
Plant Size
  • Small
    Tree4m to 8m
    Shrub50cm to 75cm
    Perennial/ground cover10cm to 20cm
    Bulb20cm to 30cm
    Succulent10cm to 20cm
  • Very Small
    Tree3m to 4m
    Shrub25cm to 50cm
    Perennial/ground coverUp to 10cm
    Bulb10cm to 20cm
    SucculentUp to 5cm
General Information
  • Drought Tolerance: High The plant is well adapted to arid conditions; it can survive long periods of drought and high temperatures without extra water.
  • Evergreen to semi-deciduous The plant is evergreen in warmer, wetter parts of the country, but may lose some of its leaves during winter in colder, drier situations.
  • Frost: Hardy The plant can withstand freezing temperatures or frost without artificial protection.
  • Roots Non-invasive Safe to plant near pools, paving, walls or buildings.
  • Water Wise Plant species originating from low rainfall regions that require less water to survive and thrive than other plant species.
  • Wind Tolerant Plants able to withstand the effect of strong winds.
Specific Information

Jacket-plum is a very long-lived small to medium-sized tree with a spreading, rounded or dome-shaped crown, the shelter of  which is popular with nesting birds. The leaves are rough to the touch, dull green with spine-toothed margins. The new leaves emerge with a pinky-bronze colour, which contrasts well with the older dark leaves.

Fruit is a furry-green 3-lobed capsule up to 20 mm in diameter, which splits open to reveal the fleshy orange-red aril which covers the seed. The scented flowers attract insects and birds, the fruits and seeds attract birds and the leaves are the larval food for at least four butterfly species. 

Pappea capensis has long been used as a tree under which 'indabas' were held, where chiefs and village elders gathered to discuss tribal issues- perhaps for the pleasant shade, but  I believe that it was also valued for it's longevity. I've been told they grow to over a thousand years old. The ancestors of the village have sat beneath this very tree for countless generations - such a tree must indeed generate a deep sense of history.

Pappea capensis produces a high-quality bio-oil with a by-product of a  nutritional seed cake for cattle.  The Jacket plum was the 2011 common Tree of the Year.

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 tiny petals with extended stamens carried on catkins

  • Summer to Autumn Plants will seldom bloom for the entire season as given in the list, but should flower during a period within these parameters.
  • greenish white
Growth Rate
  • Moderate Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
  • Very Slow Specifying growth rate can be very misleading as there is considerable variation of growth rate depending on type and species of plant, available water, supplementary feeding, mulching and general care, as well as the plants suitability and adaptability to the garden environment.
Plant Uses
  • Attracts bees, butterflies or other insects This plant attracts insects which can be food for birds or other creatures in your garden.
  • Attracts Birds This plant will attract birds.
  • Boundary A plant useful for planting around the edges of the property to form a green or colourful backdrop, an impenetrable hedge, to hide walls or create privacy.
  • Hedge Suitable trees or shrubs planted relatively close together so that the branches intertwine to create a barrier. This can be formal – the plants are regularly trimmed to produce a neat shape, or informal – the plants are left to themselves to create a natural hedgerow.
  • Provides deep shade A dense evergreen tree useful for a low light planting environment or for a recreational shade area.
  • Rock Garden An area constructed of larger rocks, arranged naturally, to emphasise the use of stones as a main element. Generally plants used do not need a lot of care.
  • Screen A tall hedge of suitable plants planted closely together and used as a windbreak, to block a bad view, to separate parts of the garden or as a backdrop.
  • Suitable for bonsai A shrub or tree that lends itself to being dwarfed.
  • Suitable for coastal gardens Plants adapted to dry, sandy soil, forceful wind, limited rainfall and intense sunlight.
  • Suitable for smaller gardens Such plants do not have invasive root systems, remain small or controllable and can often be grown in containers.
  • Wild Garden An indigenous garden planted for the benefit of wildlife and birds. Provides food, water, a variety of mini-biomes and no poisonous chemicals are used.
  • Windbreak Trees planted in a row to form protection from prevailing winds by breaking the force of the wind, thereby reducing wind damage.
Distribution and Habitat

widespread in all the provinces of South Africa, and north to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and further into eastern and southern tropical Africa, in bushveld, riverine thicket, wooded grassland , rocky outcrops in grassland and scrub veld, often found on termite mounds

Planting Suggestions

Young trees are slow-growing but growth speed increases as the tree matures. Growth is also faster in warmer climates or warmer positions of the garden. In cold and dry areas, the growth is very slow. For maximum growth, water deeply every week or two, add compost and fertiliser and mulch well.

I had one that I planted in the veld garden and it sulked for two years and died. I grew some from seed I had collected. They did grow very slowly and showed little growth - shin high after two years . I have planted one of these in my garden. About four months after planting it began to take start putting out new growth.

The old method of digging a deep hole and filling it with soil and compost has resulted in many trees failing to thrive, dying, rotting at the base or worse still, falling over in later years due to poor root development.  Refer to the following sites for the best method of planting trees: Planting a tree

International Society of Arboriculture: New Tree Planting

Tree People: Plant the right way

For those of you who have a clay problem try:

Rod's Garden: Planting in clay soil

Medicinal Uses

The bright red, jelly-like, translucent arils around the seeds are edible with sweet-sour taste and can be used to make jelly, vinegar and an alcoholic drink. The seed oil extracted from the roasted seeds is edible but slightly purgative and is used for lubrication, to restore hair and to make soap. A mixture of leaves, bark and seed oil is used  to treat baldness, ringworm, nosebleeds, chest complaints, eye infections, and venereal disease.  Bark has been used as a tonic and aphrodisiac and for chest complaints. Leaf infusions are used for sore eyes and root infusions are used as a purgative for cattle.

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Is pappea capensis a protected tree or not a protected tree, provincially and nationally?

Hi I planted my Pappea at the bottom of the garden after it was in a bag for 2 years. t was about 1 m high! Then we had bad (black) frost and it seemed the tree was dead. Now it's shooting new leaves on the ground from the bottom of the tree! Is it worth pursuing? And do I basically now have a brand new baby plant?

Hi Yvette

Apologies for this tardy reply to your comment. What you are seeing now is what is called 'coppice growth' - the term used for new growth from the original stump. It is certainly worth keeping the plant but:

Instead of a single stemmed tree you will have a multi-stemmed tree; and,
depending on how many stems are shooting, you will need to remove some of them. If there is one stem clearly stronger than the others, keep only that one. Otherwise leave perhaps three or four of the strongest. With a photo I may be able to make a better assessment for you.

Kind regards

Hi Lorraine
Thank you so much for the response. I will go and investigate the stems and also take a pic.
How long will it now take for this tree to flower and fruit?

Hi Yvette

Depending on where you are, the Jacket Plum can be very slow growing. Mine is about 5 years old and is still less than a meter tall! I am not expecting it to flower for some years yet.

Kind regards

When I moved into my new home a Landscape Gardener was employed to develop the garden. One of the trees planted I was told to be a Pappea Capensis (Jacket Plum)(approximately 2 meters). From what I have seen in books and on the Internet this tree has all the hallmarks of being a Pappea except that after 5 years it has hardly increased in size and has never flowered or produced fruit. Is this to be expected or could this be a different species with similar characteristics?

Hi Michael

Sincere apologies for the tardy reply.

According to the experts, this tree grows painfully slowly when young but faster as it gets older.

Mine was planted from seed 8 years ago. It grew to knee height in about eighteen months and then took another 4 years to grow another 30 centimetres. In the last two and a half years it has bushed out beautifully and is now 1.6 m tall. I'm not holding my breath to see flowers!

A bit whimsical I suppose but I like to think that seeing this tree can grow to be 500 to 800 and more years old, it has no need to rush.

Kind regards

Can one grow pappea capensis from stem cuttings?

Hi Tiaan

Apologies for not replying to your query sooner.

Usually when a plant can be grown from cuttings, it is mentioned in books and other media. I have to date found no mention of this being a viable method of propagating this tree.

So your guess is as good as mine. If you try it and it works, let me know so I can spread the word.

Kind regards

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